By Sarah Stevenson
Although legal assistants—sometimes referred to as legal secretaries—do not practice law, they provide invaluable professional assistance to attorneys during trials and hearings and ensure the efficient day-to-day operation of a law office.
Not surprisingly, it's a competitive field, but the good news is that the demand for legal assistants is expected to be high, and there are plenty of opportunities for advancement in a legal assistant career.
Legal assistants work in diverse settings. A large percentage work for private law firms, but you can also pursue a rewarding legal assistant career in private industry, as a freelance legal assistant, or working for a government agency.
A legal assistant's job offers a lot of variety—they may undertake any task that a lawyer might delegate, except for giving legal advice, accepting a case, representing a client, or setting fees. Here is just a sampling of what a legal assistant might do:
- Conduct interviews with clients or witnesses
- Conduct investigations and legal or statistical research
- Help draft and prepare legal documents such as reports, pleadings or contracts
- Accompany the attorney to depositions, trials, hearings and other meetings
- Perform administrative duties such as maintaining financial records
Start a Legal Assistant Career Online
Legal assistant careers generally begin with an associate's degree in legal office administration, or a bachelor's degree in another area with a certificate in legal assisting. Many community colleges offer such programs, but for those who are looking for a more flexible schedule, an online program may be your best bet. Certificates, associate's degrees, and even bachelor's degrees are available online in legal assisting studies.
Because so many institutions offer paralegal and legal assistant degrees, it is very important to attend an accredited program to ensure that your education meets appropriate standards.
Legal Assistant Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants is $48,350. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Legal assisting is a popular field. One way to increase your chances of getting your dream job is by training in a desirable specialty. High-demand areas for legal assistants vary depending on economic conditions, but legal assistants who specialize in bankruptcy and real estate foreclosure will find increased opportunities during a recession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand will also be high in coming years for legal assistants with expertise in areas such as intellectual property, healthcare, and environmental law.
Another way to ensure your success in a legal assistant career is through voluntary professional certification. Several organizations offer credentials that indicate to an employer that you've reached a certain level of educational and professional attainment:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
Although the legal assistant career field is a competitive one, the good news is that a formal education will substantially increase your job opportunities. Give your future career a boost and start researching online education options today.
Sources: National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).